What Is Wrist Tendonitis?

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Introduction

Tendons are the underestimated heroes of our bodies, connecting muscles to the skeletal system and facilitating essential movements. These collagen-based structures enable us to bend our arms, rotate our hands, and flex our feet, among other functions. Our wrists are complex joints with six vital tendons, that rely on these connective tissues for their mobility. However, when tendons suffer injury or inflammation, wrist tendonitis can occur, leading to stiffness and pain in the joint. 

This article delves into the intricacies of wrist tendonitis, exploring its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and prevention strategies. Understanding this condition empowers individuals to recognise, manage, and prevent wrist tendonitis, fostering better joint health.

Understanding healthy tendon function

Tendons are tissues connecting muscles to the bones, so they are important for mobility. Tendons are mainly made out of collagen, which winds into large fibres, acting as a strong rope for muscles to move the bones.1,2 In many parts of the body, muscles connect directly with other muscles, whereas tendons are specifically essential to joints. Shoulders, ankles, jaws and, as highlighted in this article, wrists, rely on tendons. Thanks to their function, we can bend our arms, rotate our hands and extend our feet, along with many other functions.

There are 6 tendons in the wrists, allowing for hand mobility. Muscles on the back of your hand and arm pull on tendons connected with the bones, helping to extend your hand and fingers. Similarly, muscles on the front side of the hand help to bend your hand and fingers forwards and inwards.

Understanding wrist tendonitis

After an injury, tendonitis can occur, which is the swelling or inflammation of the tendon. It often means that the joint will feel stiff or be painful to move. With wrist tendonitis, an individual will not be able to bend or rotate the wrist as they usually would.3

Symptoms of wrist tendonitis

The main ways to tell if you have tendonitis in your wrist include:

  • Pain in the wrist that intensifies with movement
  • Challenges in moving the wrist
  • A sensation of grating or crackling when moving the wrist
  • Occasional swelling of the wrist
  • The wrist becomes warm or red with swelling

What causes wrist tendonitis?

Tendonitis usually comes from overuse of the tendons.6 It is regularly mistaken for arthritis, due to inflammation and pain at the joint. The causes include:

  • Infections
  • Repetitive strain on the joint
  • Strain on soft tissues due to abnormal or poorly positioned joints or bones, such as joint deformities
  • Specific types of arthritis and related conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout
  • Metabolic conditions, like diabetes
  • Rare instances of side effects linked to certain medications, such as fluoroquinolone antibiotics (used to kill bacteria and treat certain infections) and statin drugs (used to lower blood cholesterol)7,8

How to diagnose wrist tendonitis?

Diagnosis is simple, with a typical physical examination usually being enough to determine the condition. If there is uncertainty between tendonitis and other conditions, an x-ray or other imaging methods can provide clarity.4,5

Treatment options

If the tendonitis is mild, treating yourself is possible, and quite simple. Resting the joint is essential, which means not using your wrist at all for 2-3 days if you can. The rest allows for better healing by reducing extra stress or pressure on the already injured wrist tendons.

Also, for the 3 days you are resting, using an ice pack every 3 hours for no longer than 20 minutes a time can help to reduce inflammation. 

Wearing a brace or wrist support for this period can assist the healing process. Stabilising the wrist joint should only happen during the daytime, and taken off before bed. Braces or supports should fit close to, but not tight on your wrist.

Taking painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen can help with pain, but make sure to follow the instructions on when and how often to take them. A pharmacist may be able to introduce you to the best wrist support or brace, and could also suggest other painkillers, like topical ibuprofen.

If the wrist tendonitis is more serious, severely painful or restricts movement extensively, seeing a GP is advised. As well as being able to prescribe stronger painkillers or steroid injections (dependent on the severity of pain), a GP can refer tendonitis patients to physiotherapists or orthopaedic specialists. Physical treatment can help strengthen the tendon, as well as the connected muscle professionals will be able to suggest the best and most efficient exercises to strengthen the tendon using a different range of motion exercises.9

In extreme cases, surgery is usually needed. Treatment to bring back joint function happens when the tendon has partially or completely torn from the bone, or if there is damaged tissue around the tendon that needs to be removed.

Preventing wrist tendonitis

Due to wrist tendonitis being caused by rapid movement in sport, or from repetitive strain in work or hobbies, it is not always fully preventable. However, there are ways to lower your risk of getting the condition. This is especially important if you are in a high-risk group for tendonitis, so if you are an athlete or you’re over the age of 40. 

If taking part in sport, it is important to warm up correctly to allow efficient muscle mobility, as well as cooling down gently, so the muscles can relax and stretch. If the sport requires a lot of wrist usage, for example, tennis or badminton, wearing joint support can also help alleviate any potential strain. 

Starting a new sport intensely without training or practice may mean your joints aren’t used to, or prepared for moving in certain ways. If trying a new sport, take it easy, and let yourself build joint and muscle strength over time. If you train or practice a sport, try to take rest days in between, to give your muscles and joints time to recover so you don’t over-exercise them.

During work or repetitive strain injury, try to avoid doing repetitive tasks if possible. If this is unavoidable, make sure to take breaks where you can, to allow your body to relax. For example, if use a laptop or computer, do not bend your wrists by resting them on a desk while typing and try introducing gentle movements at the wrist joint when taking a break.

Summary

Wrist tendonitis, though often painful and limiting in mobility, is a condition that can be managed and, in many cases, prevented. Recognising its symptoms, such as pain, restricted movement, and swelling, allows for early intervention and self-care measures like rest, ice, and wrist support. Seeking medical advice becomes crucial when symptoms are severe, leading to treatments such as physiotherapy or, in extreme cases, surgery. 

Prevention strategies involve proper warm-ups, cool-downs, and joint support, particularly for individuals engaged in sports or repetitive tasks. By understanding wrist tendonitis and its management, individuals can take proactive steps to maintain wrist health and prevent this condition from interfering with their daily lives.

References

  1. Bordoni B, Black AC, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Tendons. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 [cited 2024 Mar 14]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513237/.
  2. Eschweiler J, Li J, Quack V, Rath B, Baroncini A, Hildebrand F, et al. Anatomy, Biomechanics, and Loads of the Wrist Joint. Life (Basel) [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Mar 14]; 12(2):188. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8880601/.
  3. McAuliffe JA. Tendon Disorders of the Hand and Wrist. The Journal of Hand Surgery [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2024 Mar 14]; 35(5):846–53. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0363502310002637.
  4. The MOWP study group:, Dean BJF, Carr A, Trickett RW, Kluzek S, Riley N, et al. The presentation, diagnosis and management of non-traumatic wrist pain: an evaluation of current practice in secondary care in the UK NHS. Rheumatology Advances in Practice [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Mar 14]; 4(2):rkaa030. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/rheumap/article/doi/10.1093/rap/rkaa030/5868418.
  5. Shehab R, Mirabelli MH. Evaluation and Diagnosis of Wrist Pain: A Case-Based Approach. afp [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2024 Mar 14]; 87(8):568–73. Available from: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2013/0415/p568.html.
  6. Canosa-Carro L, Bravo-Aguilar M, Abuín-Porras V, Almazán-Polo J, García-Pérez-de-Sevilla G, Rodríguez-Costa I, et al. Current understanding of the diagnosis and management of the tendinopathy: An update from the lab to the clinical practice. Disease-a-Month [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Mar 14]; 68(10):101314. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0011502921001905.
  7. Berger I, Goodwin I, Buncke GM. Fluoroquinolone-Associated Tendinopathy of the Hand and Wrist: A Systematic Review and Case Report. Hand (New York, N.Y.) [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2024 Mar 14]; 12(5):NP121. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5684946/.
  8. Eliasson P, Dietrich-Zagonel F, Lundin A-C, Aspenberg P, Wolk A, Michaëlsson K. Statin treatment increases the clinical risk of tendinopathy through matrix metalloproteinase release – a cohort study design combined with an experimental study. Sci Rep [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2024 Mar 14]; 9(1):17958. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-53238-7.
  9. Ferrara PE, Codazza S, Cerulli S, Maccauro G, Ferriero G, Ronconi G. Physical modalities for the conservative treatment of wrist and hand’s tenosynovitis: A systematic review. Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Mar 14]; 50(6):1280–90. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049017220302341.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Olivia Laughton

BSc Microbiology (IND), University of Leeds

Having studied undergraduate Microbiology at University of Leeds, Olivia has a huge interest in all things small. Building on her academic foundation, time spent working in the health communications sector sparked passion for medical writing and education. Bridging the gap between complex science and empowering the every-day individual with health insights is where Olivia’s commitment lies, aiding the navigation to the intricacies of the science and healthcare fields alike.

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